Surviving Trauma: Students Shine Light on Bigotry in Their High School

BY ALLEGRA COLEMAN
URBAN HEALTH MEDIA PROJECT

CHICAGO — Their stories were graphic, and numerous. 

“I’ve had my butt grabbed, like a full palm… which I’ve witnessed happen to a lot of female students.”

“I’ve had people do racist Chinese accents at me while saying racist things. They asked me to do their math work or asked me to read Korean when I’m Filipino and Chinese.”

“I remember my first week of school, I was called a cotton picker in first period. People thought that what I had to say didn’t matter and eventually led to me completely shutting down and even started my depression freshman year.”

These accounts of racism, assault, homophobia and harassment, shared this fall by anonymous students at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago’s Roscoe Village neighborhood, tell a stark story about the numerous traumas some students experience in their daily lives.

Compiled by three students at the school into a slideshow in order to open more people’s eyes about the disrespect of students that goes on in Lane Tech, the anonymous accounts spread like wildfire after being shared to the social media platform Snapchat. 

Screenshot of some statements featured in the slideshow distributed among Chicago high school students. (Credit: Photo provided courtesy of Allegra Coleman).

This type of harassment has unfortunately become common in high schools across the country, with numerous lawsuits filed against both school districts and individual high schools as a result. 

In October,  a mother filed a lawsuit against a school district in Wisconsin for constant harassment and racism directed at her daughter, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. 

Research on racial harassment in school shows that victims of this type of bullying, most commonly occurring as subtle assaults and racial slights, are more likely to express anger and sadness. The 40-slide presentation, called “Lane Tech Normalized, Consistent Bigotry,” was set up with the main topic on the top of each slide, whether it be “Student Racial Insensitivity” or “Blatant homophobia/incentive,” followed by an anonymous story from a student. 

On a slide entitled “Sexual harassment/ Racial Slurs” a student said: “Most white guys on the hockey team are hella racist and say the n-word or defend friends who do… saying the n-word is really common.” 

One of the slideshow’s three creators, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of backlash from students and the school, is a current junior at Lane Tech and a person of color, African American and Hispanic, who has experienced firsthand many such incidents at the school.   

“I have experienced being uncomfortable around people when they thought it was okay saying the n-word around me, or joking about me being a slave,” the student said. “It has made me insecure about my race and I wanted to let people know how much it can hurt.” 

The harassment and racial slurs have made the student uncertain and uncomfortable about her own race, and the experience prompted the effort to see how many other students are hurting as well.

Reaction to slideshow mixed 

According to the student, the slideshow has received both support and criticism from students and teachers, even prompting an investigation on the content of the presentation. 

“I had a few teachers congratulate me for participating in this and some who were very proud of me, while… [the board of education for Chicago Public Schools] thought they should make an investigation about the presentation,” said the student. 

According to the student, the presentation was created to shed light on all of the negativity that goes on around the school and how it can impact a student’s life in the long run and the rest of their educational career.

“I wanted to let people be aware of how situations like these do harsh things to people, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gave them trauma or doubt in themselves during the rest of the school year,” the student said.

Signs of change

According to the same student, Lane has created a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) committee of students and teachers to contribute to advisory lessons for other students and teachers.

“The BIPOC committee has already started working on a Black Lives Matter presentation for advisory,” said the student. “Hopefully the committee can raise more awareness to prevent any more incidents, and my school can continue to grow as a community.”

Editor’s note: Allegra Coleman is an 11th grade student at Albert J. Lane Technical High School in Chicago. She was a participant in the Urban Health Media Project’s fall 2020 workshop “Surviving and Thriving Despite Trauma,” which was funded by The National Council for Behavioral Health (www.thenationalcouncil.org).

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